LYNDHURST — Fact: 1 in 4 Americans will be, at one point in their lives, diagnosed with a form of mental illness.

It could be depression, bi-polar-mania, schizophrenia, addiction to drugs, addiction to alcohol — or numerous other ailments.

What may be worse is that countless more go undiagnosed because for decades, the stigma attached to mental-health issues has been so great.

But many municipalities in New Jersey — including Lyndhurst — have taken steps to end that stigma associated with mental-health issues by adopting resolutions to become Stigma Free municipalities.

Perhaps you’ve seen the signs indicating Lyndhurst is a Stigma Free town. They’re at both entrances to the township on Ridge Road — near North Arlington and Rutherford. But the program is so much more than just signage.

In conjunction with the Lyndhurst Police Department, the Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst has had more than 10 of its members take a two-day course sponsored by CBH Care of Lyndhurst (Comprehensive Behavioral Healthcare, Inc.)

The two-day, eight-hour training, included addressing mental health issues in America, creating an action plan for mental-health issues, understanding depression and anxiety, detecting suicidal behavior, detecting depression, detecting non-suicidal self-injuries, panic attacks, traumatic stress, understanding psychosis, detecting disruptive and aggressive behavior, understanding substance abuse disorders, overdosing, withdrawal and more.

While this story won’t be about the science behind mental-health issues, it is, instead, about the group of women who were the first in Lyndhurst — they won’t be the last — to undertake this most important venture.

Rosemary McGuigan, of Lyndhurst, is one of the women who took the first course offered by CBH, a course directed by the company’s Sue Devlin. McGuigan says she had “personal reasons” as to why she took the course and as to why she wants to help all residents of Lyndhurst — and everywhere, for that matter — realize that there should not be a stigma attached to mental-health issues.

“Anyone you know could have depression or a number of other mental-health diseases,” McGuigan said. “Our goal is to show everyone that mental-health problems are everywhere. We want to let people know that no matter what they’ve heard from people in the past, they can and should seek help — and that help is available in town.”

So what if a Stigma Free trainee notices someone — or may even know someone — in need of help for mental-health issues? Well, the first thing that will happen is that a trainee will call the Lyndhurst Police Department.

“A person would then be evaluated by the LPD,” McGuigan said. “This is a collaborative effort between the trainees and the police department. Our chief, James O’Connor, is working on having all of his police officers trained as we were.”

Editor’s note: Several phone calls, emails and text messages to O’Connor, over a two-week period, were not return in an effort to gain comments from the chief on his role, and the LPD’s role, in their involvement in Stigma Free Lyndhurst.

McGuigan says the whole program is about changing attitudes, too, not just by those afflicted by mental-health problems, but by the community at-large.

“We want to teach people not to be judgmental. We want to do what we can help those in need,” McGuigan said. “We don’t want to hear people saying ‘Oh my goodness, just get over it.’”

Evelyn Pezzolla, who in 1969 was responsible for forming CBH Care, and who is also a member of the Lyndhurst Woman’s Club, is also part of Stigma Free Lyndhurst movement. She still sits on the board of directors at CBH.

“We are very proud of the progress and success of CBH and the people we help,” Pezzolla said. “Sue Devlin developed the mental health first-aid course that the Lyndhurst Woman’s Club has participated in. Through the two-day course, we learned how to pick up signals of mental-health issues. The mayor (Robert Giangeruso) and Lyndhurst Board of Commissioners are all on board on the journey to make Lyndhurst a Stigma Free town.

“We want to get the word out to get help for the people who need it without being afraid.

Pezzolla says the trainees were taught how to be “sensitive” about the need for mental-health help.

“While we were taught to observe a possible problem, it’s as important to be sensitive about those problems,” Pezzolla said.

Up next — library employees will receive the same training the PD and Woman’s Club got.

“At times, the library deals with the homeless and others who have mental-health diseases,” Pezzolla said. “We want to get the training message across the board. We know the training works. And we are very fortunate to be a community where the leadership gets that.”

Kevin Canessa | Journalist & Webmaster

Kevin Canessa Jr. is a journalist and webmaster at The Observer. He is responsible for the editorial content on the newspaper's website, the production of the e-Edition, covering the Nutley Police Department and more behind the scenes. From 2006 to 2008, he served as the editor of The Observer, where he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video for the very first time. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Fla., for four years until February 2016 and in 2016, moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.